Helping with school work

You can help with schoolwork

Most parents would like to help their child with school work, but feel that they don’t know enough. However, there are many ways that you can help. But first, what if you do have specialist knowledge?

You have specialist knowledge

For example, you may have a degree in a relevant subject, or knowledge gained through your work or private study. It’s great if you can inspire your child with your knowledge and enthusiasm and I’d encourage you to do so.

However, you need to take care. Your knowledge may inspire, but may not help with school work as such. Teaching more than your son or daughter needs to know may increase their interest in the subject – even inspire them – or it may just add unnecessary facts for them to remember. So don’t just let rip with your knowledge – do some research first. Use the course textbook to show you what your child needs to know. Then, if you want to add more interesting material (which I do with science now and then) you can say, “you don’t need to know this, but isn’t this a neat fact?” One of the outcomes of studying a subject at GCSE is to encourage further studies at, say, A-level. So a bit of extra knowledge is no bad thing. I’m just suggesting that you know when it’s extra and when it’s not.

If you don’t have specialist knowledge, there are many ways to help.

  • Be a coach
  • Express interest
  • Be a sounding board
  • Be a problem solver
  • Help with research

I suggest that you adopt the attitude of a coach. This is a good approach generally now that your child is a teenager. What is a coach?

A coach encourages and helps you to find the best way forward.
A coach doesn’t necessarily have the answers, so you’re not there to tell them what to do, but to help them solve their problems and attain their goals.
A coach remains silent most of the time and listens carefully in order to understand. If you want to be supportive, listening attentively is more important than knowing the answers. Teenagers need to know that you are supporting them – that you are on their side.
A coach shows an interest by asking stimulating questions such as:
How does that work?
Why does that happen?
What exactly is difficult about this?
Have you seen something similar before?
What do you need to know in order to solve this problem?
Where might you find the answer?

Express interest: encourage you child to discuss their work by expressing interest.
I didn’t know that!
You’re a mine of information aren’t you!
That’s interesting – tell me more.

Be a sounding board for their ideas.
Encourage your teenager to throw ideas and questions at you. It might amuse them to ask questions that show your ignorance! At least this will get them to open up and say what they don’t know.

Be a problem-solver. Many times a student will look at a problem, not recognise it, and then give up. You can encourage them to keep going and take a calmer, problem-solving approach. Tell them that one of the skills of problem solving is to chunk it down and approach it small step by small step. If they can’t see the answer, ask them:

  • What CAN you do, even if it doesn’t give the answer straight away?
  • Then what?
  • Does that help?
  • What’s different about this problem?
  • What other problem does this one remind you of?
  • What is difficult about it?
  • What do you think you need to know that will make it easier?

Always be encouraging and instil a ‘can do’ attitude – ‘never give up’. Remind them of everything they’ve achieved already and that they can achieve success again.

Notice that none of what I’ve listed actually requires subject knowledge.

In my role as a private tutor, the feedback I often get is that I’ve helped simply because I’ve been supportive and encouraging. Of course, with a big ego like mine, I would be like to be told that I’m a brilliant teacher, but I know that it’s not just subject knowledge that makes an effective teacher. So don’t worry about not knowing.

If you’re not sure how to start.

If you’re not quite sure how to get going with this, here are some suggestions to start with – ice-breakers:

  • You look at bit stuck with this – what’s it all about?
  • Parents evening is coming up – what would be the most useful questions to ask your teachers?
  • What are you learning about at the moment?
  • What do you actually do in class? I imagine it is different from when I was at school!
  • Do you find it easy to remember what you learn in class?
  • What do you find easy and what do you find most difficult?
  • How do you think I could help you best with this?

Tell them that you’d like to help – to be involved – but you’re not sure of the best way to do it.

Plan to help.

If possible, agree with your teenager that you get together to review their work at regular times – say every Monday and Saturday, whenever they get most of their homework.
Agree that you will do whatever you can to help.
It may be that a session is simply keeping in touch – there’s not much to talk about or problems to solve. However, you can still ask questions. I’ve lost count of the times that a student has told me, quite honestly, that they have no problem, but when I ask a few questions, I find that they are not so sure!

Helping to find out.

In addition to asking useful questions and giving support that way, you might also be able to help them find things out, for example, by searching the web with them or looking through their textbooks and revise guides.

“Where can we find out about this? Websites? What about your textbook?”

Get to know their resources – textbooks, revise guides and websites, and work through a problem with them. – see how much you can learn! Make sure you’re familiar with the online resources that I’ve listed in the section on Resources.

You don’t have enough time.

If you are like most parents, you’re busy most of the time, or your diary doesn’t coincide with your teenagers. But that needn’t be a problem. Having short, regular chats is usually better than trying to do too much all at once. Agree that you will try to help and organise regular times to sit down and review what they’ve done over that last few days or week. Would a would a quarter-hour slot at the weekend be a good time?


  • Hello my daughter is coming up to her gcse maths exam, and has only just informed me that she has difficulty with some of the questions.

    and example of a question she has difficulty with is a 2 part question as follows:

    ” Michelle has been given 6 equations and has been asked to draw 6 graphs. Before starting, she looks at the equations.

    y = 3x
    y = x
    y = 1/2 x
    y = 2x +5
    y = 4x +2
    y = 2x +4
    (please note that x is the letter x not the multiple symbol)

    (a) Michelle says ‘the steepest graph will be y = 2x +5’.
    Is Michelle correct?
    You must give a reason for your answer,

    (b) Michelle says ‘No 2 graphs will be parallel to each other’.
    Is she correct?
    You must give a reason for your answer.

    ————————— ”

    Can any 1 explain how you would work out this type of question, as i don’t know how too, and neither does she. She is busy asking people for “the answer”
    Which really wont help at all. as what she really needs to know is how you work it out…

    There are no values given for “x” and i cant seem to find any way to calculate what it should be

    • it’s all about identifying the gradient of the lines using the formula y=mx + c. The coefficient (the number in front of) of x is the gradient when y is the subject, which it is in all the examples. The bigger the number, the steeper the line. The steepest is y = 4x +2. Two are parallel (same gradient) – y = 2x + 4 and y = 2x + 5.

      It’s easy when you know it – but I’m going out for the evening. I’d be happy to have a short skype session to explain if it’s confusing – it will only take 5 minutes. Friday? My phone is 07989412319 and skype name is bobfostercoach.



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